Hopes of living permanently in the ACT have been dashed for hundreds of overseas-born workers and students because of a surprise announcement of changes to skilled migration visas.
The ACT Government released a Critical Skills List on Thursday, 8 August following a recent shake-up announced by the Federal Government’s Department of Home Affairs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The changes announced by the ACT Government centre around a list of preferred jobs for skilled work visas and radically change eligibility for skilled migration, leaving many applications void.
Recent changes announced by Home Affairs indicated the Australian Government’s priority for migration in 2020-2021 is a focus on supporting Australia’s economic and public health response to – and recovery from – the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes an emphasis on migrants who will make productive investments in Australia, create jobs for Australians, provide critical health and medical skills, and support economic productivity.
The Australian Government then directed states and territories to focus on applicants critical to supporting the effort in response to COVID-19. This includes individuals providing critical or specialist medical services, skills required to maintain the supply of essential goods and services, and those who deliver services in sectors critical to Australia’s economic recovery.
The ACT Government is the first Australian state or territory to release a list of skills and occupations deemed critical for recovery. Applications with skills not on the list will now be void.
The ACT Critical Skills List will be used to determine the eligibility for ACT nomination for the Skilled Work Regional (provisional) subclass 491 visa, and Skilled Nominated (permanent) subclass 190 visa.
Baker Deane & Nutt immigration lawyer Connie Park says all visas for entry to Australia are issued by the Australian Government but eligible skilled and business people who demonstrate commitment to migrating to Canberra are able to apply for an ACT nomination. Under the Territory Migration Agreement, the ACT is allocated a fixed number of nominations each year.
“I was expecting something (because of the current economic circumstances), but the announcement by the ACT Government came with no notice,” said Ms Park.
“This affects people who have already been living in the ACT and have applied for a 491 or 190 visa. These people have put a lot of time and effort to put an application together and have been waiting in a queue for some months and now, overnight, their applications are void.
“The changes are significant as they wipe out a whole lot of occupations. There are four classes of skilled occupations; occupations one and two remain in limited numbers, but classes three and four have been removed from the list. All the trades are now gone.
“A lot of people are now panicking because of these changes.”
NewStars Education and Migration Canberra branch manager Victor Lin agrees. “Many people have been left in limbo,” he said. “They will now have to choose between leaving or extending their current visa and wait in hope for changes to the list next year.”
Mr Lin said the changes mean the visa allocation system will not match the aims of the education sector.
“Many people have come to Australia to study accounting or finance, for example, because Home Affairs had previously encouraged migration for people who had those skills,” he said. “Now those occupations have been significantly reduced. People who have paid and studied for years to gain these qualifications are now ineligible.”
Ms Park said there may be more changes announced in the federal budget in October, but because the focus is likely to remain on Australian employment and recovery from COVID-19, any changes may not bring much relief for people with voided applications.
“My advice to people who are affected is to seek immigration advice as soon as possible,” she said. “Many people try to do this on their own, but immigration is complicated. Do not waste time – go and speak to an immigration agent or lawyer.”
For more information, visit ACT Skilled Migration.